HJ/EDMay 1, 2006

Who shot the heck out of the weather vane?

Reprinted from the Cokato Finnish American Society newsletter

Peter Wanha arrived in Minnesota in the fall of 1870 with his wife, Kaisa and his 7-year-old daughter, Eugenie. The land that Peter chose for his farm was between two Finnish settlements that had been established several years earlier.

Some people date the building of the round barn to be 1902 others in 1905, but my guess is around 1907 - 08. It was built by the Finnish settler, Peter Wanha on 80 acres of leftover railroad land he purchased for $850.

There was a round barn similar to this one that was built south of Cokato on the Titrud farm in 1908. Plans for the Titrud barn were submitted to the College of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota. The professors there agreed that the plans for the round barn were good and practical. For this barn, the large granite rocks for the foundation were hauled from Kingston.

The lumber was pre cut and brought to Cokato by rail. How the foundation rocks were gathered, what kind of lumber and from where it came for the Wanha barn we do not know. The roof and siding on the Wanha barn was galvanized metal. Over the years, whenever the roof needed patching, it was done with wooden shingles.

The two round barns were believed to be similar in construction although the Wanha barn was larger; it was 80 feet in diameter. The height from the bottom to the top of the cupola was over 80 feet. The stone walls were almost two feet thick. The hay loft was about 16 feet above the stone foundation, with side walls of 20 feet, and the roof going up 30 more feet.

There was a hay loading door on the north side with a hay track some 28 feet above the floor. On the east side of the Wanha barn was a sloped driveway where hay wagons could be driven into the barn and unload. There was an exit door on the other end so machinery could be driven straight through. On occasion, machinery was stored in the hayloft. A silo was built on the south east side of the barn. The milk house and the barn entry door were on the east side facing the house.

The lead craftsman on the Wanha barn was Albert Forari. His father’s farm was located just northwest of Cokato Lake. His brother, Ellis, had the blacksmith shop at Temperance Corner. I would guess it was his blacksmith brother who made the weather vane. Each builder made his cupalo a little different, sort of a builder’s trademark. This particular cupola had a weathervane.

The weather vane shaft was fashioned in a forge from a piece of flat iron. The point and tail section were made out of metal scraps, the same as the sheeting on the barn. It is patched together with iron pegs hammered down to secure the pieces in place.

On an early picture of the barn, you can see a round object on the top of the weather vane shaft. In those days, it was common to put a glass ball atop a lighting rod. On this barn there were lighting cables that ran down the roof to the ground on two side of the barn.

It took many men to build this barn, we have some names in connection with it, such as; Gust Raisanen from Annandale, who helped haul rocks and build the stone walls, Henry Severy from French Lake, who made the hay doors and the double hay track which were installed in 1914.

The round barn no longer stands; it was taken down in 1999.

A crude house was built for the family. As time passed and the family grew, the house became more and more crowded, but it was the animals who got a new home many years before the large comfortable farm house was built. The word around the community is that you could see who wore the pants in the family because if the man did, a barn was built before the new house. If the wife wore the pants, it was the house that was built first. Didn’t anyone give the wife credit for realizing that building a nice barn to raise stock in could increase the income of the farm? We will never know the character of the Wanha women.

Story has it that shortly after the barn was built, a man hung himself in the barn. Because the church frowned on such actions, his funeral was not allowed to be held in the church. The funeral was held in the pasture with all the neighbors gathered around. The man’s identity is unclear. I hope to get more information on this tale.

The lower level of the barn was a busy place, housing all the animals. The outer ring of stalls was for the cows, bull and horses. As the need for the horses decreased, more cows were added. The young stock and feed pens were in the middle. There were four hay chutes to drop hay to the stock below.

The hay loft was the best place for children’s play. It was only the very brave who would climb up the ladder which hung down from the slope of the roof to the cupola. It was hard to heed the warning of “Don’t look down”, as you climbed from step to step with your back to the roof.

The cupola must have been some 45 feet off the hay mow floor. What a breathtaking view from up there, you could see for miles around. They could check out to see if the neighbor kids were coming over, who was going to town or in the fields working.

Among the many names found in the cupola was Otto Mattila. He may have been one of the brave souls who was proud just to have made to the top.

It was cozy up there. When several boys were up there with bats and sticks trying to swat the birds, chances are that not only the birds took a hit or two. Even if the windows had screens on them, the birds seemed to find a way to the top.

Sometimes, a brave girl or two ventured up there. Story has it that when a certain girl was up there with some boys chasing birds, she had opened her mouth too wide and a frightened sparrow flew right in. The boys hooted with laughter while the girl spit feathers.

Hide-and-seek in the barn was a great game. One of the old neighbors tells about the time he brought his younger brother over to play in the barn.

After all went to hide, no one could find him. At last, someone looked out the cupola window and saw him climbing down the lighting rod along the slippery tin roof. He was almost near the edge of the roof, some 35 feet off the ground. He was a fearless kid.

The biggest thrill of all in the hay loft was the rope swing which hung from the cupola. A long ride on the swing and a drop in the soft hay was the most fun of all.

As for the weathervane, what a tempting target. Just shoot it and watch it spin. It was 80 to 85 feet up in the air; no BB gun would do the job.

Upon questioning many fellows, I got only one to admit he may have taken a shot or two at it. Donald Wanha, a third generation former resident of the farm was the only one to fess up.

The most likely story I gathered was that of a fellow who is no longer living so he can’t defend himself. Others have told that in the ‘50s, a young entrepreneur by the name of Delano Hillstrom, whose uncle lived on the farm, had taken shots at the weathervane. Story has it that Delano planned to shoot pigeons and sell them as squab to a fancy market in Minneapolis.

Well, that may be true, some of the holes could have been made by a 22, but more holes were made by a deer rifle. Now tell me what would be left of a pigeon hit by a 30.06 slug? Nothing but a puff of feathers.

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